Swadeshi Movement

  • Began as a reaction to proclamation of partition of Bengal in 1905. Motive of partition was to weaken Bengal, the nerve of Indian nationalist activity.
  • Moderates assumed charge of the movement from 1903-05. They set up public meetings, signed petitions and raised their propaganda through newspapers (like Hitabadi by Debendra Nath Tagore, Sanjibani and Bengalee by Surendranath Baneerjee) and pamphlets. They resisted the idea of extremists taking the movement outside Bengal.
  • Extremists took over the movement in 1905 as moderates were unable to achieve positive results. They introduced methods like boycott of foreign cloth and emphasis on self-reliance. It launched programs on Swadeshi and national education.
  • Students, women and Muslims joined the movement.
  • The partition was annulled in 1911.
  • Nation as Mother: Bankim’s Bande Mataram part of his novel Anandamath was sung publicly by Rabindranath Tagore at the Calcutta Session in 1896. This song was taken up by Swadeshi activists. The idea of a nation imagined as a mother became ubiquitous in songs, novels, political writings, visual and iconic arts.
  • Congress session at Calcutta in 1906 under Dadabhai Naoroji declared that the goals of INC Resolutions were adopted on the boycott, swadeshi, national education and self-government as goals of Congress.
  • Congress decided to constitute district associations for sustained political work. Several district conferences were organised by Congress in the following years.
  • Moderates and extremists had different ideas to go about the movement which led to a split between the party at Surat session INC in 1907.
  • Boycott of colonial education & pursuit of national education: Leaders called for boycott of officially controlled educational institutions. British threatened student-picketers in the form of withdrawal of grants, scholarships & affiliations  by the Carlyle Circular (Issued by Chief Secretary of Bengal).
    • According to this circular If any college violates the government order and the student quits the educational institution then no assistance will be provided by the government to the institute.
    • Therefore, leaders of Swadeshi movement planned to start a parallel system of education in Bengal.
    • Bengal National College inspired by Tagore’s Shanti Niketan was set up with Aurobindo Ghosh as its principal in 1906.
    • A National Council of Education was set up to organize a system of education on nationalist lines in 1906.
    • Bengal Technical Institute was set in 1906 (Later became Jadavpur University).
  • Samitis: For spreading the messages of boycott, swadeshi and national education, many volunteer bodies or ‘samitis’ sprang  up in Calcutta and other districts of Bengal.  These samitis preached essentials of swadeshi, took up social work during famines and epidemics, imparted physical and moral training, organised crafts and national schools and set up arbitration committees and village societies, encouraged folk singers and artists to perform on Swadeshi themes in local dialects. Important ones were:
    • Dawn Society: Named after famous journal Dawn.
    • Anti-Circular Society: Formed to protest against Carlyle Circular.
    • Swadesh Bandhab Samiti (Barisal) of A K Dutta which became strong instruments of mass mobilization.
    • Swadeshi Sangam (Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu) by V.O.Chidambaram Pillai and Subramaniya Siva.
  • Propping up of All India Muslim League in 1906 as an anti-Congress front. Its main leaders were Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Aga Khan and Salimullah of Dacca. Muslim League intended to preach loyalty to the empire and to keep Muslim intelligentsia away from Congress.

Facets of Swadeshi Movement

Economic Aspects

  • In its economic aspect, swadeshi expresses nationalist-protectionist sentiment against foreign capital and promotes indigenous goods and urges consumers to use them even if more expensive or inferior in quality to imported commodities.
  • Swadeshi sends out a call of patriotic duty for people with capital and enterprise to pioneer indigenous industries even at the risk of small or even no profit in the initial period.
  • Though starting point of swadeshi was economic, it soon crystallised into a comprehensive social, economic, political and cultural ideology under impact of interpretations given by leaders of Indian thought such as Bipin Pal, Aurobindo, Brahma Bandhab, Rabindranath, Satischandra Mukherjee and others.
  • Swadeshi thus developed into a full-fledged ideology, reflecting the political aims and economic demands as well as the cultural traditions of the people of India against the political domination and the imperialist economic policy of the British Power in India.

Political Aspects

  • Hindu Mela tradition of holding periodic exhibitions of swadeshi products was revived by Industrial Association from 1893 onwards, and its 1895 exhibition is reported to have attracted 20,000 visitors. Since 1901, such industrial exhibitions became a regular part of the annual Congress sessions.
  • Jogesh Chandra Chaudhury organized a Congress exhibition at Calcutta, and Lord Minto was invited to 14 inaugurate it. Nationalists under the leadership of Tilak were trying to radicalize the ideology and programs of Congress at risk of a hitter encounter with right-wing elements while the latter was engaged in making use of the industrial exhibition, a part of the Congress session, to find favour with the Viceroy who had used the inaugural function to praise and pat ’honest swadeshi, implying mere promotion of indigenous industries as opposed to political swadeshi based on the boycott movement.
  • Radical Nationalists opposed holding exhibitions under official patronage and they called for its boycott. Lord Minto’s homily on honest swadeshi created a convulsion in Radical Nationalist press and platform.
  • On ideological plane, Minto’s sermon was attacked by exponents of new thought pushing forward the rift and basic differences between the two schools of politics as to the interpretation and application of swadeshi.
  • Brahmabandhab Upadhyay in an article on ’Honest swadeshi or Viceroy’s hypocrisy’ published in his daily, “Sandhya” in December 1906, explained concept of honest swadeshi, its ideological meaning and its mendicant slant. He wrote: ‘’Honest swadeshi was explained by His Excellency as swadeshi dissociated from politics, the swadeshi which buys cheapest thing in the open market, without discrimination between indigenous and foreign”. He described these words as mere ’’humbuggism and hypocrisy”.
  • Brahmabandhab vividly gave an account of how a discriminating tariff policy of British destroyed Indian commerce and indigenous industries. British did not hesitate to impose a 50% ad valorem duty on Indian manufactured goods imported to England and a penalty of fifty pounds on all persons in their country either buying or selling Indian goods.
  • Defenders of free trade in the world protected their markets by tariffs and imposed penal laws against unfavourable economic competition “when everything is swept away by force and violence, these hypocritical firangis pose as honest and innocent and “we are told this is honest swadeshi.’
  • Minto’s homily on open market and honest swadeshi meant for Great Britain a policy of buying raw materials in the open market at the cheapest price and selling finished products at non-competitive prices in India. Brahmabandhab said that a policy of protective tariff duty in the national economic interest was the universal policy followed by Great Britain, France, Germany and other European nations.

Cultural Aspects

  • Swadeshi implied promotion of indigenous industries was a legacy of Moderates’ tradition of thinking. Radical Nationalists infused the flesh of boycott and blood of politics in the body of swadeshi movement and thus helped/revolutionize the concept of swadeshi. They went a step further and gave a more expansive interpretation of swadeshi, covering within its broad sweep almost every aspect of Indian culture, tradition, and attitude.
  • Alleged superiority of western civilization, culture, and society so long fondly cherished by the Moderates was seriously challenged by the Radical Nationalists while explaining their concept of swadeshi.
  • Radical Nationalists regarded western technology and culture, Its aggressive nationalism and utilitarianism in the light of an onslaught on the traditional culture and society of India. They revolved against everything western and passionately upheld everything Indian. In the swadeshi movement, they saw a direct clash of two opposite value systems. They took immense pride in supporting the cause of an ancient civilization and culture like that of India.
  • Economic swadeshi was the starting point of the anti-partition swadeshi movement, and very soon, the idea of the movement split over its economic contents and encompassed everything.
  • Valentine Chirol remarked, Question of partition itself receded into the background, and the issue, until then successfully veiled and now openly raised, was not whether Bengal should be an unpartitioned province or two partitioned provinces under British rule, but whether British rule itself was to endure in Bengal, for the matter of that, 50 anywhere in India.
  • Radical Nationalists of Bengal launched a massive struggle in the realm of ideas against British rule. To them, British rule was not merely economic and political but also westernised India. They understood and interpreted swadeshi from a broad perspective of containing British rule in economics and political spheres as well as a challenge to the Inroad of western influence in Indian society and culture.
  • Maharashtra: Sakharam Ganesh Deuskar (1869-1912) popularised ideas of Naoroji and Ranade and popularised the idea of Swadeshi. He authored Desher Katha in 1904 and highlighted British government’s ‘hypnotic conquest of mind’. The book was very popular, inspired by swadeshi street plays and folk songs. British government banned the book in 1910.
  • In Telugu-speaking regions: People from this region actively supported boycotts and swadeshi. Students participated in Bande Mataram Movement. Students wore Bande Mataram badges in public meetings of Bipin Pal in 1907. There were attempts to establish national schools in the region. There was also increased interest in Telugu language, literature and history. There were terrorist acts in region such as an attack on a European club in Kakinada and the murder of a British Magistrate.
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